Archive for the ‘Letting Go’ Category

Sorry that I dropped off the face of the earth last week. I traveled across the country from Wednesday through Sunday and foolishly thought I might have some time to blog. Quiet “alone time” in front of my computer is difficult to pull off when traveling with three children!

I have been mulling over a concept for a while that I have been wanting to blog about. I love the television series Covert Affairs and received the DVDs for Season Two as a Mother’s Day present. One of the last episodes in Season Two discussed a concept that I have been thinking about ever since the episode first aired, and I have had a renewed interest in the concept since watching it again.

A character named Eyal Lavine (played by Oded Fehr) is a Mossad agent who has an interesting conversation with the lead character, Annie Walker (play by Piper Perabo). Annie says that she wants to “have it all,” an interesting career as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent as well as a family. Eyal tells Annie that her view is “very American” and that Israelis view life differently. (I have no idea if this is true or not, but I like the concept regardless.)

Eyal says that life has a flow and that you need to release yourself into the current. Rather than making all of these plans and trying to mold your life into the way you want it to be, you need to release yourself into the current of life and go wherever it takes you. When Annie asks where he thinks the current will take him, Eyal replies, “Today, the current has taken me here.” Later, after a climactic moment, Annie asks where Eyal will go next, to which he replies, “Wherever the current takes me.”

I really like this philosophy of life, and it is so different from the way I have lived most of my life. I have always had a very “American” view that I can “achieve the American” dream but putting enough effort into what I want to accomplish. However, I have found myself many times putting all I have into one direction, but life had other plans for me. As an example, despite giving my all to becoming pregnant, that never happened – life had other plans for me to adopt my son, which never would have happened if I had achieved my goal of pregnancy. If I had never adopted, I never would have applied for a job as a blogger, and I certainly never would have started blogging about healing from child abuse. If I had “willed my way” in where I wanted to go, the most meaningful part of my life never would have happened.

Giving in to life’s current rather than trying to “will” my way into what I want is a huge change of perspective for me but one that I am making an effort to try.

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I truly am making progress in letting go. No, I am not perfect at it, but I am making noticeable progress.

My 11-year-old son and I traveled to another state to visit my sister, and we had to change planes in a large city to get there. We were delayed in getting onto our plane in our hometown due to mechanical issues, and then the airport in the large city where we were to make our connection grounded all incoming and outgoing flights due to weather. By the time we got this message, we had already boarded our plane. This resulted in sitting on the runway for well over an hour waiting for clearance to take off.

The Faith of a few years ago would have been freaking out. We only had a one-hour layover, so once we passed an hour of waiting to take off, I knew that we would miss our connection unless that flight was also delayed long enough for us to catch it. Additionally, my sister lives in a very small town with limited flight access, and we were booked on the last flight of the day. So, if we missed our flight, we would be spending the night in the big city.

A few years ago, I would have needed to take a Xanax to calm my anxiety. I could have obsessed about whether we would catch our connection and what we would do if we missed it. Instead, I read my book, worked on some Sudoku puzzles, and chatted with my kid. I also told him how proud I was of him (the child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD) for being so well-behaved while having to sit for almost two hours before we took off.

When we arrived in our connecting city, we learned that we had missed our connection by 10 minutes. Three years ago, I would have fought a panic attack with Xanax. Instead, I went to the customer service booth and was relieved to hear that the airline would pay for a hotel overnight. It was inconvenient not to have saline solution for my contacts or a clean set of clothes, but I took it in stride and have decided to add those items to my carry-on baggage from now on.

I am not saying I was thrilled by the delay, but I was able in the moment to notice my progress. I only snapped at my kid once (when he dropped our dinner on the floor of the airport shuttle), but I apologized within minutes and got back to joking with him. To the “old Faith,” this would have been a nightmare experience. Today, it’s an anecdote.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Since last summer, I have been feeling pulled toward letting go of the need to be in control. Recognizing that this is the direction I need to grow and actually doing it are two completely different things, though.

I have been having one epiphany after another over the last week or so about letting go of control. First, being in control is just an illusion. I can plan out my day as thoroughly as I want, but unexpected events are always going to arise, and I need to remain flexible enough to accommodate them. Flexibility has never really been in my vocabulary, but adaptability has. If I view my goal as becoming more adaptable, perhaps that will result in being more flexibile.

Second, I have always viewed being in control as synonymous with being responsible. However, I have friends who are very responsible parents to child with multiple special needs, and they manage to meet all of their children’s needs without any sort of schedule at all. I do not view them as irresponsible, but I also confess that I have no idea how they do it. I am still in the process of trying to wrap my head around the reality that I don’t have to be in control to be responsible.

Third, I believe the inability to be in control is at the root of my anxiety, which is causing my stress-related issues, such as reflux and period insomnia. If I let go of the need to feel in control, I suspect that my anxiety levels will drop dramatically, which, in turn, will cure (or at least ease) some of these other issues.

I completely understand why I have always felt the need to be in control. As an abused child, I had absolutely no control over my life, so I grew into a teenager who tried to take control through obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and an eating disorder. I grew into an adult who lived and died by a schedule. [For those of you who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the first time I took it, I ranked 26 for Judging (needing to plan everything) and 0 for Perception (spontaneity).] I would actually “plan to be spontaneous.” There was no room in my life for anything that wasn’t written down in my Day Planner.

Then, life sent me a kid with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The child is as impulsive and spontaneous as they come. Adapting to living with someone who is so polar opposite to me has been interesting.

I don’t think it is coincidence that my son came into my life. I think he came, in part, to teach me how to let go of control. Believe me – there is no “controlling” this kid.

I haven’t mastered any of this yet, but I am trying to be mindful of all of this and am making an effort to take a deep breath and let go of any illusion of being in control. It’s not easy.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader wants to know how to forgive yourself for what your abusers forced you to do or watch as they harmed those you love. This is a complicated process that is going to involve different steps for different people, but the big picture process is the same – you need to find a way to accept at a heart level that you were not responsible for your abusers’ actions. This includes not being responsible for doing things that you were forced to do.

When I first recovered the sickening awareness and then memories that I had been forced to sexually abuse my younger sister, I didn’t think I could bear it. I was flooded with suicidal urges and simply wanted to die. Thankfully, my mind released a montage of memories of my sister being forced to abuse me. I knew at a heart level that she was not responsible for any of those vile things. Even at the time, I never blamed her for the things our abusers forced her to do to me. That was the starting point for me removing blame from myself – if I could see that my sister was not to blame for what they did to me, perhaps I was not to blame for what they made me to do her.

It helps that my sister and I talk about our shared abuse, so I was able to tell her that I had recovered memories of us being forced to harm each other and that I was sorry for all that they forced me to do to her. She was able to tell me immediately that she did not blame me, which helped the process along. The conversation was not a switch that made the self-blame go away, but it was a huge start.

From there, I had to force myself to stop blaming myself. When guilt or shame would ooze out about what I had been forced to do, I would actively stop it. I would tell myself that I was not responsible for those actions and refuse to put more energy into hating myself over them. I would then replace those thoughts with positive ones, focusing on anything I could to feed the right wolf.

One thing that worked for me was doing positive mantras. (Some child abuse survivors have told me that this doesn’t work for them, but they have found other ways to achieve the same goals, so don’t despair if this doesn’t work for you.) During this phase of healing, if I was flooded with guilt and shame over what I had been forced to do to my sister, I would recite, “I love you; you are safe; I’m sorry” over and over and over and over in my head. I didn’t believe a word of it, so it’s OK if you don’t, either. However, over time, just as I had been brainwashed by hearing how rotten I was as a child, I was able to “brainwash” my way back to believing that I loved myself and was safe.

Feeding the right wolf works. You need to find a way that your wolf can be fed.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This week, I have been talking about the need to remember enough of the trauma to “let go.” I have also been sharing some personal examples of how this process has worked for me. You can catch up here and here.

I don’t want anyone to think that there is something “wrong” with them if they don’t experience the same results that I did in “letting go” of my most traumatizing memory in about three weeks’ time. Healing is not a race or a competition.

I don’t think it is possible to “let go” of trauma in three weeks without a significant amount of practice and experience in working through trauma. When I first started on my healing journey, I recovered memories of the mother-daughter sexual abuse. My “breakthrough crisis” lasted for six weeks – every single minute of six weeks. I then got a four-hour reprieve where I realized there was actually life after this horrifying experience. When the four hours ended, I was right back where I was before – drowning in emotional pain – but this time I had the **hope** of a future that was not consumed by pain.

My therapist assured me that the healing process would move me toward shorter difficult periods (from six weeks to hours or days) and that the easier periods would grow longer (from four hours to weeks or even months!). Of course, I had a hard time believing this in the moment, but it gave me hope.

Healing from child abuse is a process of remembering what happened and finding a way to accept it as part of who you are. The way you get from A to B is going to vary from person to person. For me, yoga and meditation were a huge part of this process. For Michael, yoga is just about the last thing he would do, but art has been very helpful. Art is not my thing (unless you classify writing as “art”), so many of the tools he shares are not tools that I have used. However, we are both moving from A to B one trauma at a time.

The more experience I have in healing from trauma, the better prepared I am to navigate through new memories. My new memories seem to be surfacing about once every six months now, and I am growing more confident in my ability to work through them. If I could just “let it go” without having to remember, I would. That hasn’t been my experience. I need remember enough to heal, and I cannot “let go” until I remember and process.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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In my last blog entry, I answered the question of how a person can “let go” of a traumatic memory that he or she does not remember. I said that you can’t. “Letting go” of a traumatizing memory before processing it is simply denial. The trauma will continue to plague you until you process it. I then shared me experience with healing from mother-daughter sexual abuse – I didn’t have to remember every abusive experience to heal.

Now I would like to focus on healing from the ritual abuse. I recovered my first inkling of there being any ritual abuse with a flash of my soul/spirit being high in the treetops looking down at a bonfire (out-of-body-type memory). Since that first flash, I have recovered quite a few horrific trauma memories of the ritual abuse.

I believe I have needed to process more specific ritual abuse memories than I did of mother-daughter sexual abuse because the ritual abuse memories had significant differences that I needed to heal. With the mother-daughter sexual abuse, it was mostly the same thing over and over again, so I only needed to remember a handful of memories to heal. However, the ritual abuse varied, traumatizing me in different ways. I have had to process specific traumas that are different from one another, at least different enough that I need to work through them one at a time versus in a blanket way.

I started working through the healing process (having flashbacks, seeing a therapist, reading self-help books, etc.) in 2003, and I started working through the ritual abuse traumas in 2005. Even though I did a lot of trauma work and experienced a significant amount of healing, I was still extremely triggered by Christmas because of the memories I just worked through this past Christmas, which I blogged about here:

I could not “piggy-back” that trauma with the other ritual abuse memories despite the fact that I have done an enormous amount of work processing traumas from ritual abuse. I had to remember what happened before I could “let it go.”

I haven’t yet shared what an amazing transformation has taken place inside of me from letting go. For the first time ever, I decided not to “do” anything with those memories. Other that writing about them on the blog, I did not analyze them. I did not sit around thinking about them. I didn’t do exercises to work through my emotions. Instead, I chose to “be” with whatever I felt without judgment or action.

For about three weeks, I was probably clinically depressed. I withdrew from everyone in my life to the extent I could. I didn’t return phone calls or get together with friends. I just went about my day feeling sad. I tried to visualize allowing the pain to pour out of me with nothing to interfere with the process – no distractions, no advice, no trying to make it better, etc.

After about three weeks, I miraculously felt better – I mean really, really better. I found myself sometimes singing Christmas carols and appreciating the beauty of Christmas lights at night. I stopped feeling the urge to wear my “Bah Humbug” shirts. By remembering what happened and “letting go” of the emotions, I found freedom from the emotional bondage.

More tomorrow…

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On my blog entry entitled What Does “Letting Go” Mean?, a reader posted the following comment:

How do you let go of abuse you can’t remember? I try to tell people who don’t understand PTSD, “you can’t forget what you can’t remember.” ~PW

The short answer is that you can’t. Trying to “let go” of memories you have not yet processed is simply denial. Well-meaning people sometimes advice child abuse survivors to “let it go,” but what they really mean is to shove it back down inside so nobody has to deal with it. What these people don’t realize is that until you process the trauma, it continues to affect every single area of your life. You cannot “let it go” until you process the trauma.

Considering how much trauma I suffered as a child, I feared I might not live long enough to process every single memory of every traumatizing incident in my life. My therapist assured me that there is no need to recover every memory of the abuse (thank goodness!) You need to process just enough to reach a place of working through accepting that one area of trauma.

For example, I know that my mother sexually abused me from when I was a toddler through around age six. I can pinpoint the length because I recovered a memory of her sexually abusing me as a toddler and then another memory of myself at around age six when my father walked in on my mother hurting me. That’s when her sexual abuse stopped (although it started up again briefly after my father’s death when I was 16).

My mother was a stay-at-home mom and had 24/7 access to my sister and me except when we were in school, so I know there were more incidents than the two. However, I have only recovered a handful of specific memories of being sexually abused by her. One was when I was two years old, and she performed a “new” sexual act on me. Another was the memory of my mother sexually abusing my baby sister in front of me for the first time (when I was four). Within these flashbacks are the thoughts I was having, which confirm that these four incidents were not the only times she sexually abused me.

I have been able to process the trauma of being sexually abused by my mother by working through this handful of specific memories, even though I was likely sexually abused by her hundreds of times. As my therapist said, I don’t have to put myself through reliving all of those incidents. I need to remember enough of what happened to process it and heal.

This blog entry is getting too long, so I will continue with this topic tomorrow…

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I have previously shared that I have almost finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. I have about 50 pages left to read in the third book, Mockingjay. One of the minor characters is a woman named Johanna Mason, who won one of the previous Hunger Games. She is the tragic character who has both the strength and the weakness of having nobody left to lose.

Johanna makes a comment to Katniss (the lead character) that the one thing she thinks her shrink is right about is that you can never go back to being the person you were before the trauma (in her case, before the Hunger Games). For this reason, she must let go of trying to become that innocent girl again and, instead, find a way to live with being the person she is today.

It’s just a small part of the book, but it was one of the most meaningful conversations for me as a trauma survivor. Because my child abuse started at such a young age, I don’t really have a “before” to go back to, which I guess is a blessing in some respects. I don’t grieve the loss of the innocent girl I was because I don’t remember ever being that person. Still, I do grieve the innocent girl I should have been. I don’t think it’s the same thing, though. I grieve a concept while those whose trauma started later grieve a version of themselves that ceased to exist after the trauma.

I think this dialogue in the book resonated so deeply with me because it is part of the process of “letting go” that I am work through right now. Another thing I need to let go of is any hope of being someone who has never experienced trauma. That ship has sailed and isn’t coming back. It is unrealistic for me to strive to act and react as someone who has never been traumatized acts and reacts.

If I can accept this truth at a heart level, I can let go of my definition of “normal.” I used to tell my therapist that I just want to be a “normal” person. What I meant by this is I want to be like someone who has not endured trauma. That simply is not possible.

This reality does not have to be a “bad” thing. I have many strengths that were honed because I have survived trauma. I need to let go of the labels of “good” or “bad” and, instead, recognize and accept what “is” and “isn’t” without judgment.

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On my blog entry entitled New Year’s Resolution: Letting Go, a reader posted the following comment:

Ahh, “letting go” – the advice psychologists, family and friends have always given: “Just let it go.” And my standard answer to them as well: “I’d love to let it go if it would only let go of me.” ~jeffssong

Just as how society’s distortion of what “forgiveness” means interferes with many child abuse survivors’ ability to forgive, society’s warped view of “just letting go” can erect barriers to this natural process for child abuse survivors. Let’s explore what “letting go” is and what it isn’t.

First, there is no “just” to letting go. Whenever someone adds the word “just” to “letting go,” what that person is really advising is living in denial. The other person cannot handle the child abuse survivor’s intensity, so the person gives out pat advice that will make him or her feel less uncomfortable.

Someone in my life asked me multiple times why I couldn’t just “stuff it all back inside.” While that question made me angry, at least it was honest. “Just let it go” is a dishonest way of pressuring a child abuse survivor to “stuff it all back inside” or pretend it didn’t happen. That’s not healthy.

“Letting go” is not a moment – it is a process. “Letting go” is a conscious choice to stop “stuffing it all back inside.” It is the choice to feel whatever you need to feel to get to the other side of the pain. Another word for “letting go” is grieving.

Grieving is another concept that isn’t honored in the Western Society. You might get until the funeral to cry, but then it is time to “let it go” and pretend like you didn’t experience a loss. When I was 16, I actually had someone tell me it was time to “get over” my father’s sudden death when it had only been six weeks! My response was, I have even begun grieving him yet!

My favorite definition of grieving is the process you go through to accept your new reality. For example, grieving my father’s death involved whatever I needed to do to stop thinking about what my life should be like right now and, instead, accept that life without my father is my reality.

Let’s circle back to “letting go” – It is the process of letting go of what I think my childhood should have been like and accepting that my life is exactly the way that it is. Part of this process involves letting go of the emotions I have bottled up, letting go of judgments and expectations about who and what I am, and letting go of the need to dwell in the past. “Letting go” is the process I need to go through to look forward in my life rather than always looking back.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I had a restful holiday season and am ready to dive back into blogging again! I hope that you had a restful holiday season as well. Sadly, I know how hard the holidays can be for child abuse survivors, so my guess is that many of you are happy for the holiday season to come to an end.

Over the break, I had a massage. My muscles were much less tense than they usually are. I had an epiphany on the massage table that I have decided to turn into my New Year’s Resolution – This year, my resolution is to let go.

I want to let go of so many things … relationships (both professional and personal) that are no longer working for me … difficult emotions (don’t stuff them down – just let them go and sit with the process until they are gone) … the need to be in control. I have spent so much of my life towing along so much baggage. I am ready to let that baggage go.

One struggle I have always had is wanting to know what to DO without letting go of the many things that I am already doing. I always think that if I do X, Y, or Z, that is going to be the answer. I am all about reading self-help books that provide THE answer. If only I had known to DO X, Y, or Z, everything would have been fine. So, I put my energy into doing X, Y, or Z, but I just wind up even more weighted down.

Yes, “weighted down” is a good way to describe how I have been feeling. I usually use a marathon as a metaphor for healing, but this feels more like a long-distance swim. I keep pulling more and more baggage, and it is weighing me down. I am ready to cut the ties that bind me to this baggage and experience how well I can swim when I am not dragging such a heavy load behind me.

I have spent most of my life doing things I don’t want to do and investing in relationships I don’t want to invest in because I believe it is expected of me. I want to let go of those outside influences and explore who and what **I** want to be.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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